Editor’s Notebook: A child of the first-in-the-nation primary
A sign points to a campaign event held by Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama at Keene High School on Jan. 6, 2008, in Keene, New Hampshire. (Eric Thayer | Getty Images)
For those of us who have spent our lives in New Hampshire, running into famous politicians is old hat.
One day in late 1987 or early ‘88, when I was a day student at Proctor Academy in Andover, a classmate came into the computer lab and said Paul Simon was walking around upstairs. I knew the Democratic senator from Illinois and presidential candidate had been making the rounds in the state, and I figured a bit of low-effort political engagement was the perfect excuse for a work break. So I ran up the spiral staircase to get a look. There in the hallway was Paul Simon, of Simon & Garfunkel, standing with his son and the lucky Proctor student who was giving them a tour of the school.
You see, the kid in the computer lab never said it was Paul Simon the candidate – I just assumed that’s who he was talking about because of where we were on the calendar and the map. “Paul Simon’s upstairs? Cool. I think I’ll go see what color bow tie he’s wearing.” I was probably still listening to my “Graceland” vinyl regularly at that point but the world-famous celebrity – the one who wore a turkey costume on “Saturday Night Live” while singing “Still Crazy After All These Years” – was the other Paul Simon.
That’s how it is when you grow up in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
On Saturday, the Democratic National Committee took aim at all of that tradition and unsurprisingly – and yet somehow shockingly – voted New Hampshire out of the top spot for 2024. The olive branch of keeping the Granite State in the early window is not and has never been a serious offer, which is fully understood here but bafflingly less so by outside reporters, party members, and pundits. The requirements – that New Hampshire not only repeal a state law that says we always go first but also expand absentee voting – are not so much onerous as impossible. If you don’t believe me, just ask our Republican governor or the members of our Republican-controlled House and Senate.
I understand the DNC’s argument. New Hampshire has had a good, long run in the top spot, and South Carolina – the newly appointed first-in-the-nation state – has a much more diverse electorate. But I also know that New Hampshire is a well-oiled primary machine and our brand of “retail politics” is exceptional. Those who dismiss out of hand the legitimacy of our traditional position on the nominating calendar are ignoring – or are perhaps unaware of – the high and consistent level of voter engagement here. In all honesty, it’s really kind of impressive.
And here’s what else I know: Impermanence is the only constant – and the first-in-the nation primary is no exception.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the primary – and I promise you the drama is far from over – but more than anything I’m just feeling grateful for the ride. Like so many people in this state I’ve had the privilege to talk with many presidential candidates over the years – Al Gore and Jeb Bush, John Kasich and Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Lindsey Graham. The list goes on.
My job as a journalist has given me a little more access to the big national players in the Republican and Democratic parties over the years, but it’s my location that has mattered most. Every four years, and for my entire life, this little state has been the center of the political universe, a place where civic engagement isn’t so much expected as it is unavoidable.
It would be a bummer to lose that, but growing older means becoming accustomed to change. I just hope there’s some kid in South Carolina, Nevada, or another early-window state who will race up a staircase just to catch a glimpse of a mid-tier candidate from another part of the country.
But if it turns out to be the other Paul Simon, please tell him I said hello.
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